Running hard to support crime victims

It’s an organization area residents hope they will never need, but for those who do, the Crime Victims’ Center of Chester County (CVC) often provides a lifeline. And to continue its mission, the agency has a busy week scheduled.

The Crime Victims' Center of Chester County Inc. holds a vigil every year to pay tribute to those who lost their lives to crime – or crime-fighting.

The Crime Victims' Center of Chester County Inc. holds a vigil every year to pay tribute to those who lost their lives to crime – or crime-fighting.

Pre-registration is underway for its 20th Annual Chester County Race Against Violence, to be held Saturday, April 25. Registration and check-in is scheduled from 7:30 a.m. until 8:45 a.m. at the Chester County Justice Center, 201 W. Market St., in West Chester, on the day of the race.

On Thursday, April 23, the agency will host its Candlelight Vigil, an event that pays tribute to Chester County homicide victims as well as members of law enforcement who lost their lines in the line of duty. A vigil service will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Presbyterian Church, 100 W. Uwchlan Ave., in Downingtown. Weather permitting, a candlelight walk to the nearby Victims’ Memorial in Kardon Park will follow the service.

From its humble origin as the Rape Crisis Council – a tenacious group of Chester County victim advocates in the early ’70s – the Crime Victims’ Center of Chester County, Inc. has not only survived the test of time, but it has also provided a national and international model. Groups from the U.S., Japan, New Zealand, and Russia have traveled to the agency’s West Chester office to copy its programs, and the Crime Victims’ Center was spotlighted in a 2002 TV documentary in Japan.

For more than four decades, the Crime Victims’ Center has offered myriad services that include two 24-hour crisis hotlines, one for sexual assaults and one for other crimes; accompaniment for victims at police interviews and court proceedings as they navigate the often-daunting legal system; individual and group counseling; sensitivity training; support groups; and outreach programs on topics such as date rape and bullying.

Peggy Gusz, CVC’s longtime director, said that what began as an effort to counsel female rape victims evolved in myriad directions as needs arose for both genders. She said the agency has always relied on victims to guide its programs. For example, when the child-abuse laws changed in the mid-80s, the agency had to adjust to younger victims.

The agency’s candlelight vigil offers an example of how the nonprofit has allowed victims to shape its direction. The gathering grew out of the need of homicide victims’ family and friends to pay tribute to their loved ones. One vigil even generated the permanent memorial that is located in Kardon Park.

The annual Race Against Violence fundraiser helps support those programs. Starting times for the race are as follows: 9 a.m. for the 5K Run/Walk and 9:05 a.m. for the 1 Mile Walk. On the day of the race, cost to participate is a maximum of $60 per family and $25 per person, which includes a t-shirt. Pre-registration by April 24 is $20 and can be done online for a small fee at www.runccrs.com.

Trophies will be awarded to the top male and female runners; the winners of each age group – 12 and under; 13 to19; 20 to 29; 30 to 39; 40 to 49; 50 to 59; 60 to 69; and 70 and over – will also receive awards. Children’s activities will be held near the finish line.

For more information about CVC and its work in Chester County, call 610-692-1926 or visit the agency’s website: www.cvcofcc.org. CVC’s two 24-hour Crisis Hotlines are available to victims of all types of crime: 610-692-7273 (sexual assault) and 610-692-7420 (other crimes).

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About Kathleen Brady Shea

Kathleen Brady Shea, a nearly lifelong area resident, has been reporting on local news for several decades, including 19 years at the Philadelphia Inquirer. She believes that journalists provide a vital watchdog service in the community, and she embraces that commitment. In addition to unearthing news, she also enjoys digging up dirt in her garden, a hobby that frequently fosters Longwood Gardens envy. Along with her husband, Pete, she lives in a historic residence near the Brandywine Battlefield, a property that is also home to a sheep, a goat, and a passel of fish.

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